Summer Fridays

by B. Benson

I started the job in the fall, came in at nine on the dot every morning and though we could technically leave at 5 p.m., most of us stuck around until six to wrap up and answer all those emails we told ourselves we would answer at the end of the day.

When the early days of summer arrived our boss walked around the office and announced cheerfully, “The season of Summer Fridays have arrived! If you are still here at 3 p.m. on Friday, you are doing something wrong.”

I looked over to one of my co-workers, who was beaming with delight.

“What’s Summer Friday?” I asked.

“It means you get to go home early on Friday,” she said. “And you should take advantage of it! Get a head start on the weekend.”

I was 25 and well on my way to becoming a workaholic. The recession hadn’t hit yet but I had convinced myself that the only way to hold on to my job and have the money to have a house one day and raise kids in a backyard big enough to build forts would be to work work work, oh god, just work until the boss noticed how dedicated I was and maybe deserved a raise. Keep your head down. Make friends and not enemies at work by not being an asshole. Summer Fridays forced me out of my office chair and into the daylight.

“Don’t be the asshole who stays at the office during Summer Fridays,” my coworker added. And since I didn’t want to be that guy, I packed up my stuff at 3 p.m. with everyone else and walked out of the building.

Summer Fridays were instituted as a way to give employees a little perk — especially in startup atmospheres or places where things were just slow during the summer. They help with employee retention. They can prevent burnout. They show you that your workplace wants you to remember that you can have a life. You use the time to get recharged and then use the magical summer energy to get back to work on Monday.

I had spent my first few years out of college doing the 9-to-5 grind, usually staying later and being grateful to have a job, so this whole Summer Friday thing was bewildering. My other friends didn’t have Summer Fridays, so I spent most of it alone. I’d leave the office at 3 p.m. to avoid being an asshole, and then I’d get an iced coffee, sit in the park for a little bit, browse a bookstore without buying anything, and then go home. I’d think about work for a while, and then turn on the television.

I remembered what it was like to be out during the day, what it was like to have a beer at 3 p.m. on a day I’d usually still be at work staring into my computer screen. Whoever created Summer Fridays was a genius — I really did feel energized when I went back to work on Monday. I started organizing Summer Friday drink hours and rounded up whomever I could at the office to join me. We went to a baseball game. We went bowling. My boss came along once and it wasn’t awkward.

I don’t have Summer Fridays at the job I’m at now. At 3 p.m. today, I’ll leave my cubicle and walk over to the window in the conference room. I’ll look out into the daylight for a minute and I’ll think about getting an iced coffee, or having a long leisurely sit in the park.

B. Benson is now 30 and turned out to be a workaholic. Photo: winter pearl